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Who is a Jain Shravak: 18.2 Four Supplementary Vows

Published: 03.03.2020

4. Atithisamvibhaag Vrat

It is the fourth supplementary vow and is related with saints. Saints renounce all worldly relationships and mundane life. They do not possess any property, house or any means of making a living. All they have is their body. Body helps them for spiritual practice. Therefore, it becomes necessary for them to take care of their body. They take alms to support their body. Words used for alms are gochari, bhikshaachari, maadhukari, vritti etc. The tradition of alms is exclusively for saints and prohibited for householders. Anyone who practices five mahaavratas and is free from all possessions is worthy for getting alms.

Saints are supposed to get alms through a special process known as Nav koti parishudhha bhiksha. It means having pure alms from nine aspects. This process involves the following rules:

  1. A saint should neither commit any violence nor get it done by others or approve any violence done by others
  2. A saint should neither cook food nor get it cooked by others or approves cooking by others
  3. A saint should neither buy food nor get someone to buy it for them or approve purchase of food by others

Jain saints are absolutely free from possessions. They have no possession of money, land or other valuables. Under such circumstances, a question arises - How do they survive? Uttradhyayan sutra mentions, 'savvam se jaaiyam hoe, natthi kimchi ajaaiyam' -Anything a saint has is acquired by offerings. ' goaragga-pavitthassa paani no suppasaaraye' - Asking for alms from householders is not an easy task.

A monk's survival is dependent on a householder. According to Jain discipline, a householder cannot cook food solely for a saint.

Then how can he offer something to others? The concept of sharing addresses this question. A householder should have the feeling of sharing and offering whatever they have. Traditionally, fourteen types of things can be offered to saints such as food, water, nuts, mouth-fresheners, wooden-table to sit, clothes, utensils, blanket, sitting mat (peeth), wooden bed (falak), sleeping-mat, and medicine. These are just few things. Other necessary things are also received from a householder only.

It is important for a householder to awaken the feeling of sharing rather than being duty bound to the act of giving alms. For a shravak, eating food after offering or after doing contemplation of offering alms to a monk is important. Some people do not eat food without sharing it with guest or any other needy people. It is a practice for awakening the attitude of charity. However, alms given to householder is not as laudable, except in dire conditions such as poverty, natural calamities etc. These days begging has become a profession. Some people deliberately become handicapped for begging. Increasing number of beggars has become a curse for the country and to partake in its increase is a sin. According to Jain tradition, householders who earn a livelihood have no right to beg at all.

A Jain saint is aware of the discipline of accepting alms. They do not flatter, insinuate or make use of their status to get alms. They only get alms on the basis of scriptural norms. They accept food if it is in accordance with the prescribed rules, otherwise without any reaction avoid taking them. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of a shravak to be cognizant of the saint's requirements and offer food from their share. They must wait for the saints’ visit irrespective of whether they come or not hoping to share their portion. It is the twelfth vow of a shravak.

Importance of Bhaavana

In 1938, AcharyaTulsi was in Bidasar. Prof. F. W. Thomas from Oxford University visited him. He was a great scholar of Jain philosophy. He knew Sanskrit language and was interested in learning Prakrit language. He travelled on foot with AcharyaTulsi from Bidasar to Sujangarh and learned about Jain philosophy and Terapanth in detail. During his conversations, Prof. Thomas mentioned, 'I know a scholar who lives in England. He is knowledgeable about Jain religion and writes about it. He is a Jain in true sense as he observes twelve vows of shravak. He has written a text on Jainism. His name is Herbert Varen. I will give you his contact details and you can communicate with him through letters!

Shri Shubhakaranji Dasani contacted Dr. Varen using the information provided by Dr. Thomas. They exchanged many letters. Dasanij asked him, 'How do you observe the 12th vow even while residing in England? How do you offer alms to monks?' Dr. Varen answered, 'As you know there are no monks in England. I still practice the 12th vow. Before having my meals, I close my eyes and contemplate, 'Guru Maharaj! Kindly, visit me and accept my food. I will be very grateful. In this way, I practice my 12th vow! After listening to Dr. Varen's thought I felt that feeling and desire for offerings is more important than actual offerings itself. A shravak can continually benefit by kindling their spirit of charity to monks.

Sanlekhana: Fasting till Death

Bhagawan Mahavira was a truth-seeker. He realized the ultimate truth after spiritual practice of twelve years. His truth was not confined to the objective world. He exposed every layer of truth of life. One of his realizations was the integrated understanding of life. There are two ends of life - birth and death. The starting point of life is birth and the end is death. The course of life does not stop after death but gets associated with the next life. From this point of view death is an end of the current life and a beginning of another new reincarnation.

All great men in the world have made efforts to teach the art of living. How should you lead your life? Many workshops and seminars are organized to teach how to have a better life, but none have ever attempted to teach the art of death. Bhagawan Mahavira preached both - the art of living as well as dying. Only a person who knows the art of dying can achieve complete samaadhimaran with sanlekhana. The entire spectrum is included in the code of conduct defined for a shravak. To practice twelve vows is an art of life and doing sanlekhana is an art of death.

Everyone who is born dies for sure, but no one knows when. So, when should he start sanlekhana? This is an important question. In general, three lengths have been recommended for practising sanlekhana. According to the 35th chapter (36/250-255) of Uttaradhyayan, minimum period for sanlekhana is six months, medium is for one year and the highest is for twelve years. One who practices the higher level of sanlekhana renounces milk, ghee, and vigay etc. in first four years or practices aayambil. Then he observes fasting for one day, two days and three days in next four years and takes desired food when he concludes every fast. In the 9th and 10th year he practices alternate day fasting and does aayambil while concluding the fasting. In the first six months of 11th year he practices fasting for one, two or more days and concludes each one of them with aayambil. In the remaining six months, he does rigorous fasting of three days, four days and more and aayambil in conclusion. In the 12th year, there are two types of fasting.

  1. Continuous aayambil
  2. Alternate day aayambil with any type of fasting in the conclusion.

In the last fifteen or thirty days of the 12th year, anashan (life-long fasting) is practiced. Man fears disease, old age, and death. Sanlekhana is a spiritual practice embraced during the last moments of life to relieve one from the fear of death. A conscious shravak desires for sanlekhana. He renounces food intake when he foresees the right time. He also gives up water and accepts lifelong fasting. During anashan, he renounces care for his body and becomes free from its attachment. After accepting anashan, he neither longs for life nor thinks about death. His sole purpose is to realize the soul.

The Vital Element of Shraman Culture

There are two cultures cultivated in India

  1. Shraman culture
  2. Brahman culture

Before the Aryans came to India there was a well-flourished culture in India. The remains found in the excavation of Mohanjodaro and Hadappan civilization have proved that these do not belong to Brahmic or Vedic culture. Archaeologists believe that the remains are related with the shraman culture. The terms used in Vedas and other contemporary texts such as Vaatarashan muni, Vaatrashan shraman, Keshi, Vraaty, Aaryan etc. speak about the antiquity of shraman culture.

Shraman culture has a tradition of vows right from the beginning. Some scholars believe that Vraaty culture is the ancient name of shraman culture. 'Vrat' is the root of word 'Vraaty'. It means samyam, (self-restraint) or samvar(inhibition of karma). Vow connects a person with the soul and disconnects him from the outer world. It is a vital element of the Shramanic culture. Vraatya-kaanda of Atharvaveda indicates the culture of vows.

Vow is a fundamental part of shramanic culture. Religious traditions such as Jainism and, Buddhism have given immense importance to vows for improving the purity of life. In this consumption-centric era, few vows are being accepted as a spiritual practice even today in Jain tradition. It is the sign of uninterrupted tradition. In spite of continual changes in the era, having keen faith in vow echoes its eternal value. Humans of the twenty first century being surrounded by the enticing dangers can secure their upliftment by accepting the vows.


Title:  Who is a Jain Shravak?

Acharya MahaPragya


Sadhvi Vishrut Vibha

Publisher:  Adarsh Sahitya Vibhag, JVB
Digital Publishing: 
Amit Kumar Jain

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anashan
  2. Bhaavana
  3. Bhiksha
  4. Bidasar
  5. Body
  6. Brahman
  7. Buddhism
  8. Contemplation
  9. Discipline
  10. Fasting
  11. Fear
  12. Ghee
  13. Gochari
  14. Jain Philosophy
  15. Jainism
  16. Karma
  17. Mahavira
  18. Muni
  19. Prakrit
  20. Samvar
  21. Sanlekhana
  22. Sanskrit
  23. Shraman
  24. Shravak
  25. Soul
  26. Sujangarh
  27. Sutra
  28. Terapanth
  29. Truth Of Life
  30. Uttaradhyayan
  31. Uttradhyayan
  32. Vedas
  33. Vedic
  34. Violence
  35. vrat
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